United Airlines union raises 737 Max safety fears

money-glitz | Bloomberg 11 Nov 2019

The union for flight attendants at United Airlines Holdings says it wants a global consensus on the safety of Boeing's 737 Max before its members work again on the grounded plane.

Boeing, which has updated flight-control software linked to two deadly crashes, is working to get the plane cleared to fly by the US Federal Aviation Administration by year-end. But the head of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency is targeting January for a decision.

"We're not good with that," says Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "If we're not confident it's safe, we're not going to work it and the planes don't fly. We've been clear with the FAA, the airlines and with Boeing that we need to see that - we need to see EASA, Canada, Australia, on board. We need all these assurances because there was a break in public trust here."

Nelson's stance presages a potential hurdle in restoring confidence if global regulators don't move in tandem to lift a grounding that began more than seven months ago. Flight attendants' unions at Southwest Airlines and American Airlines Group have not taken as hard a line, saying they will wait to make a decision on how to proceed if the FAA approves Max flights before other countries.

Nelson says she expects the FAA to re-certify the plane after gaining support from other regulators.

"If we have that, I believe we will have enough to assure the public that it's safe to fly," she says. Her union represents 50,000 flight attendants at United, Alaska Air Group and 18 other carriers.

Transport Workers Union Local 556 at Southwest and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants at American both say they will evaluate the objections of other regulators before deciding whether to staff the 737 Max if the FAA is alone in giving approval.

"We'll have to weigh that consideration very carefully," says Chad Kleibscheidel, first vice president of Local 556. "But at some point we do have to rely on or have faith in the system. Whether that includes the European and Chinese counterparts, we'll have to cross that when we get there."

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